Lambert Puppet Theatre back in business after fire
South Dublin building and its puppets rebuilt in time for Christmas production of ‘Aladdin’
Ebenezer in waiting at the Lambert Puppet Theatre workshop where the production of ‘Aladdin’ starts on Saturday. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
The fire damaged Emperor lays waiting at the Lambert Puppet Theatre workshop ahead of a production of ‘Aladdin’. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
Liam Lambert carving a puppet at the Lambert Puppet Theatre workshop. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
A troupe of shiny new puppets awaited their stage debut this week as staff at the Lambert Puppet Theatre in south Dublin put the final touches to the set of Aladdin, which opens on Saturday for its Christmas run.
After two months of rebuilding and puppet reconstruction following an arson attack at the Monkstown building in September, the sense of relief in the small children’s theatre is palpable.
The theatre was founded by Eugene Lambert in 1972. His daughter Miriam said it was all hands on deck to ensure the Christmas production would go ahead after the fire destroyed dozens of the family’s handmade puppets.
“We just had to knuckle down, do it and put the fire out of our heads,” said Ms Lambert.
“There was a lot of smoke damage, it’s going to take a very long time to repair all the puppets and a lot of productions have been lost.”
After the fire, the Lamberts put a call out for artistic support in rebuilding the puppet collection as quickly as possible.
Art students and model makers from the Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology and The Lir academy joined the Lambert family, including director Liam Lambert, in recreating the magical puppet ensemble which has played a role in introducing decades of Irish children to the arts and theatre.
Ms Lambert described the impact of the fire as “shattering” – a large number of the puppets destroyed had been built by her father.
“I was down there working on the costumes and soft puppet making for this Christmas production and memories of working with my dad came flowing back, thinking of his loss and the loss to the theatre,” she said.
Many of the puppets lost can never truly be replaced, she said. “You can’t put a value on an art piece, on a puppet.”
“Morale was very low with the company at the time, just walking into the building with that smell of sulphur, dust and dirt.”
The upstairs showroom of the theatre, which before the fire displayed puppets dating back to the early 1800s in glass cabinets, had to be completely rebuilt. Ms Lambert said she hopes the new open space can be used for puppetry workshops and birthday parties.
“Some good has come out off all this too – it has made us think about the building and what other uses it can have.”
And what about Judge the dog, Eugene Lambert’s sidekick who first appeared on Irish TV screens back in 1967 in RTÉ’s Wanderly Wagon programme?
“He was sent off to be expertly cleaned but it didn’t work, he’ll have to be rebuilt,” said Ms Lambert.
“Puppets do get wear and tear, it’s like wearing a glove. Over the years there have been many Judges.”
The Lambert family is optimistic about the future and hopes to continue creating happy childhood memories for their audiences for many years to come. “Out of the ashes we’ve risen,” said Ms Lambert.
The Lambert Puppet Theatre production of Aladdin runs from November 14th to January 31st.